South Africa’s BLK JKS were formed in 2000, and in 2009 are just seeing their first release in the United States. That’s an awfully long time for a band to get their Western break, but the group’s Mystery EP isn’t any ordinary debut. The path getting here started two years ago, when the band met Diplo on tour. Not long thereafter, the group moved to New York and hooked up with The Secret Machines’ Brandon Curtis, who in turn produced their first EP, this fine slab of wax right here, which has been picked up by the venerable Secretly Canadian label.
BLK JKS’ backstory would be interesting enough on its own, but the uniqueness and brave, bold sounds on Mystery make them an even more intriguing act. The group’s sound is one that’s difficult to categorize, but easy to love. Meshing the sonic density of TV on the Radio with the exotic psychedelia of Yeasayer, and a bit of dub for good measure, BLK JKS offer up four mesmerizing tracks of layered brilliance. First track “Lakeside” has an immediate, mysterious appeal. It’s melodic, yet shrouded in sinister atmosphere and rumbling beats, made all the more eerie with Linda Buthelezi’s moan of “where did it all go wrong?”
The title track builds from an ethereal haze to a woozy, dub inflected psych-rock track. Its rhythmic complexity makes it a bit less accessible than “Lakeside,” but the intricate layers at play reveal something new and compelling with each listen. “Summertime” has a jazzy approach, but its loose, laid back structure erupts into a scary, tripped-out jaunt into harrowing minor key torrents of delay-addled guitar. After the group’s many twists and turns, however, the EP ends on “It’s In Every Thing You’ll See,” a meditative, exotic acoustic track that opts for ambiance over rhythmic textures.
As a debut EP, Mystery is both overwhelming and very promising in terms of where the band could potentially go next. In four songs, BLK JKS take four very different directions, yet throughout these varied approaches, maintain a sonic identity that stays constant throughout. BLK JKS are something special, and though they’ve been around a lot longer than most may realize, this is just the beginning.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.